Friday, November 30, 2012

Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Plot: Georgia, a 14-year-old girl living in Toronto, Canada uses ballet to escape her dysfunctional family life. But when her classmates at her prestigious ballet academy show their growing interests in boys and sex, Georgia struggles to come to terms with her own sexuality and a growing attraction for her much older ballet teacher.

Comments: This book was disturbing. I can't believe this is a young adults novel and recommended for young teenagers. The more I read, the more I was grossed out. Though initially Georgia is determined to focus on her love of ballet, she gradually becomes obsessed with the idea of a relationship with her decades-older teacher. She perceives every little thing he does to be a come-on, a sign that he wants her. A strange part of this is that in the beginning she was worried that her teacher was a creep who was interested in his students - but as time passes, she suddenly switches to actively pursuing him herself. It doesn't make any sense.

In fact, all throughout the book, I never could understand Georgia's motivations for anything she did. She was a very two-dimensional character. The author Schabas had to say everything Georgia was feeling (as in, "I was angry") because Georgia wasn't enough of a developed character for readers to understand her without constant explanations. Though the story was told from Georgia's point of view, she felt like a blank wall, a robot who just wandered through the plot and did what was needed in order to make the plot reach the intended ending. Because I didn't understand or relate to her, I didn't like or have any sympathy for her. It was the same with the rest of the characters. Georgia's mom mopes around the whole book, her dad is distant and elite, and none of the people in the book feel real.

As the plot progresses it grows more and more creepy and Georgia's actions more and more inexplicable. I forced myself to finish, but by the end I was completely disgusted with the book. While some may say it's healthy for teens to read about this side of sex portrayed so openly and unashamedly, I disagree. The only good thing about this story is that Georgia's friends and family took action, confronted Georgia, and found her help when they discovered the extent of the situation - exactly what they should have done. But besides this, I don't see any good messages from this book. I feel like the way Georgia acts and thinks actually tells teens that it's okay to pursue illegal relationships with teachers and middle aged people. And the way the book ends, I feel like it was about to happen all over again. The message this sends and the pure sexual content and graphic descriptions in this book are not appropriate for most teenagers, and certainly not for the average under-16-year-old.

Rating: I rate Various Positions a four out of ten. I hated this book and do not recommend it for anyone - but especially not for teenagers. Not only did I dislike the main character because she didn't feel human, but the story itself was dark and disturbing. This book did not seem to condemn illegal, highly sexual relationships between young teenage girls and middle aged men - rather, it almost said that these relationships are normal and okay.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Plot: Not far into the future, the world's amazing technology turns against its creators to cause the bloodiest, most destructive war humankind has ever seen. Robots almost destroy the entire human race when they first attack at Zero Hour, but humanity fights back with their defining trait of a fierce determination to live. For the first time, all humans must unite in order to stand a chance against the fatal technology surrounding them.

Comments: This book was both fascinating and nightmarishly-creepy. Though the technology in this book is more advanced than what we currently have available today, it doesn't seem like such a strange idea that some day it all may turn against us. Though household robots are not common today, the thought of one such normally obedient, subservient invention suddenly slaughtering your neighbors is frankly quite terrifying. This book definitely made me check over my shoulder once or twice. The theme of the whole story is a blend of confusion, terror, horror, and determination.

The stories compiled in this book are varied from a soldier's perspective as he battles on foreign soil to a child's viewpoint while she struggles to make sense of the horrifying new world. I love the way the story is told through many different perspectives because it gives you a wide, general idea of what's happening in the war all over the world. Each snapshot tells a whole story, of heartbreak or courage and often both. Though each character only plays a small part in this book - and in the war - they leave a distinct imprint on the reader's mind and heart.

I like how there are still questions left unanswered when the book ends. It's realistic: none of the people in the stories ever got the answers to their many questions, so why should the reader? This way you're left with an air of intrigue and mystery. This is a theme throughout the whole book, really. There's a good balance between the scientific theoretically possible aspects and the unnatural, alien qualities in the story. It keeps you guessing and using your imagination.

Rating: I rate Robopocalypse an eight out of ten. Don't get turned off by the slightly cheesy title. If you like robots, war stories, and tales of heroics and sacrifice, read this book.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Plot: This tells the stories of several black maids working in white households amidst the racism of 1960's Mississippi and one young white woman who wants to learn their perspectives. Together they gain courage and support while working to change their community for the better.

First Line: "Mae Mobley was born on an early Sunday morning in August, 1960."

Comments: The Help is an amazing novel. The individual stories and the differing viewpoints and voices of each character weave together to create a powerful, thought-provoking book. Every person has something different to say and a different perspective of life, but they are all drawn together for more or less the same reason.

I love the characters. Aibileen, a maid raising her employer's daughter, is my favorite. She is patient and loving but strong and sturdy, and she helps create the movement towards equality. Minny is a spit-fire maid who has trouble finding work because of her tendency to speak her mind. Skeeter is a young, white college graduate who returns home to find that the black maid who raised her is gone, and no one will tell her where she went. These people all have such different personalities that it's a pleasure to watch them interact and to hear the thoughts in their heads.

Not only does this book share stories of what it was like being a black maid in the South during the 1960's, but it encourages more than just racial equality. It inspires readers to stand up for their beliefs and stick together, even when it seems like the whole world is against you. This story mixes wit, history, perseverance, and harsh reality into a fantastic blend of page-turning goodness.

Rating: I rate The Help a 10 out of 10. I definitely recommend this book.